Several departments of the Punjab government have joined hands to promote tourism in the forest zones of Mullanpur, close to a luxury resort owned by former deputy CM Sukhbir Badal. The two-day event called Shivalik Adventure Drive, scheduled on July 8 and 9, is being sponsored by the departments of forest, tourism and Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA), and will see dozens of off-roader vehicles passing through nature trails in the forest zone of Siswan, Mirzapur and Jayanti Majri.
The first part of the drive will take place in the Jayanti dam area while the second part is over the route from Siswan dam to Mirzapur forest rest house. These vehicles will also be driven on the roads on top of the dams, which are otherwise no-entry zones for general public.
The site of the adventure drive is close to the Badal-owned Sukhvilas resort. Coinciding with the development of the resort over 2015-2016, the SAD-BJP government also had made plans to develop tourism in the area with nature treks, water sports and the like, leveraging the scenic forest area and the twin dams of Siswan and Mirzapur located close by.
A visit to the Mirzapur Forest Rest House by The Indian Express found that the dilapidated rest house had been repaired for the event this weekend. A forest guard on the spot, Balwinder Singh, said the work on clearing the route for the off-roading drive was taking place further up the trail and that the vehicles would be coming to the guest house from the Siswan dam side.
A dozen or so workers from the nearby village Mirzapur village are clearing bushes and scrubs along the trail. Some vegetation will be cleared also to make a parking area for vehicles. “The work is almost done and will be finished by this evening,” said the guard.
Forest officials denied the motor rally was taking place on forest land, and said the vehicles would go along a dry seasonal rivulet (choe) in de-listed forest land. District Forest Officer (DFO), Mohali, Gursimran Singh, said while a trail has been cleared, no tree was axed. The vehicles would pass only on de-listed land, and not through the adjacent forest land.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Kuldip Kumar also said the trail was located on de-listed land and the department had given the permission for the rally by ensuring it would not harm the wildlife and the forest area along the choe, or rivulet.
Surprisingly, state’s Forests Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, seemed unaware of his department’s involvement in the promotional event. “My department has got nothing to do with it. It is an event being conducted by the Tourism department,” he said, after being told that the Forest department was actively involved in the event. The official website of the Forests department is also promoting the event through a link on its page.
Director (Tourism) Shivdullar Singh Dhillon said while his department was involved in the event, all arrangements were being made by the forests department. “It is the Forest Department that has identified the route,” he said.
In April this year, following a controversy over alleged illegal felling of khair trees in the Mirzapur-Siswan forest, the Forest Department said the areas in which the felling was going on was de-listed.
Tourism Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu did not respond to phone calls or text message. The event is being organised in partnership with a Chandigarh-based group called “Gerrari Off-Roaders”. A representative of the group, Kabir Waraich, said that on July 8, the rally will be flagged off from Mullanpur and will commence at Jayanti Majri dam on an 10-km-long trail while the next day the rally will start from Siswan Dam and end at Mirzapur. Asked if they had the requisite permissions, he promised to revert, but did not.
Chief Engineer of Irrigation department, Pushpinder Lal Garg, said that till Tuesday, no permission had been sought for a rally on the road on top of two dams. “However, today I got a call from the Secretary (Tourism) Jaspal Singh, who said it was a government event and that vehicles should be allowed to ply on the roads atop dams,” he said.